The race to 2023: Who will be selected to host the Rugby World Cup?
With a decision set to be made, we talk to those in charge of bids from France, Ireland and South Africa for Rugby World Cup 2023.
LAST MONTH, France, Ireland and South Africa made their final pitches to host Rugby World Cup 2023. On 15 November, a winning bid will be selected by the World Rugby Council, but next week an independent body will put forth a recommendation. As one bid team told Rugby World: “I would like to see the council vote against an independent company they have paid a bucket-load of money, that sets the criteria.”
So with this all-important moment coming next week, we set out and spoke to all three bid teams, to see what they feel sets their one apart and what it would mean to their nation to host the World Cup in 2023.
Sitting in La Résidence de France in the heart of London, the leader of France’s bid, Claude Atcher, is holding court. In a bold move, he details how France’s ability to make money for World Rugby is a vital tool against the stagnation of the game, stating: “If we don’t do anything, in five to ten years you will have two, three to four teams on the same level and that’s all, and rugby will die.”
France make no bones about the fact that World Rugby need dosh to spread and improve the sport, so their bid is built on the promise of a big windfall. World Rugby demand that all potential hosts can cover a £120m minimum fee for hosting rights, which must be underwritten by the government, as well as the costs of putting on a World Cup. France and their government have bid more than the £120m, to the tune of £30m, and they have guaranteed approximately £210m for their operating costs (insured by Societe Generale). Like all three bid teams, if selected to host, France would have to pay 5% of their bid fee per year until 2023, starting from 1 March 2018.
Back on the financial might of French rugby, Atcher says to the room: “With Japan 2019, we don’t know exactly the most recent figures, but the thinking is that the financial revenue will be less than 2015, Around 60%, 70%, 75%, but probably less than 2015. The result is that between 2019-2023, World Rugby will not be able to invest the same amount of money than between 2011-2015. This is the situation. If France hosts in 2023, I don’t know if World Rugby will get the same criteria to invest, but if they do get the same process to invest money after 2023, they would be able to invest £350m (estimated profits) in terms of financial revenue, which we could guarantee for having RWC 2023 in France.
“We are thinking that a French World Cup would mean more revenue than other countries but I don’t have figures for Ireland and South Africa. It’s my opinion.”
Which is a roundabout way of saying that they will have significant readies to make up for any lack of projected earnings in Japan in 2019. History is with the French. As Atcher said: “2007 was the most successful tournament for hospitality package sales in the history of the RWC, with 150,000 sold.” This group insist they will be able to replicate the fine player experiences of 2007, while insisting that the TGV train system will transport fans from venue city to venue city at no longer than two hours at a time. Ticket prices will be frozen at 2015 rates, too. They will have 2.58m tickets on sale across their nine venues.
And we are told not to fear that the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris will have a negative impact. Let’s focus on the numbers again. Atcher sets the metaphorical tills ringing again: “A lot of games will be outside Paris. Only eight games out of 40 will be in Paris so it is not the same market. We have already set up an economic impact study by Deloitte and the result was that probably 450,000 visitors will come to France for RWC 2023. If you look at England it was 410,000 so I think it is realistic. These visitors will buy two tickets per person for their stay in France. At a minimum we are able to sell one million tickets outside France and we will launch the ticketing strategy two years before RWC 2023, which was the case in 2007. We don’t change our strategy.”
Ireland have never held a World Cup before. In many ways that plays into their hands, but it is also important for them to ally with experienced partners for their bid, explains IRFU chief executive Philip Browne.
Over the last five years – yes, they have been at this for a long time – Ireland have been working with Deloitte. They have aligned themselves exclusively with STH – a partnership between Sodexo and the Mike Burton group, who have overseen travel and hospitality for World Cup 2015 and will do so again for 2019 – while the architects tied to London 2012 and World Cups 2015 and 2019, Wilson Owens Owens (WOO), will oversee upgrades to the stadia in their bid package.
Ireland have opted to pay the £120m bid fee, and take out hospitality. They have a long-list of 12 venues, across Ireland and Northern Ireland, which will be whittled down to eight for the event, but they will have 2.2m tickets to sell for matches at the rugby and (much larger) GAA stadia. Browne says that the influx into Ireland for the event would bring in “if you were being conservative, at least €800m (£713m) but should be €1.5bn (£1.34bn).”
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For Browne, though, this bid has been a unifying experience.
“My first conversation was with GAA – we needed to bring stadia to the party and having Croke Park (the third largest stadium in Europe) was something you had to have, for me.
“My second conversation was with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. We have had unprecedented levels of support.
“It has been a thrill to be a part of this. For governments in the north and south, it has been incredible to work as the sole agents of working on the bid. It would be hugely beneficial to the whole island of Ireland and we’ve hade great support from the UK government. Rugby has always been a unifying force.”
The other device to catch the eye for the Irish is their insistence they can bring in outsiders better than any other, thanks to their “global diaspora of 70m”. Effectively, they hope World Rugby will want to tap into the vast number of people of Irish extraction or who identify as Irish, around the world. Browne puts this number at 40m in North America – 35m in the US, 5m in Canada – while heralding the draw of the Ireland-All Blacks fixture of 2016, when 62,300 watched in Chicago, the largest attendance for a rugby game in the US.
But for those waiting for the money to talk, there are key points for you. Firstly, they “do not want people to be priced out” so project that ticket prices can cost up to 20% less than tickets during RWC 2015 – as cheap as €15 (£13) in some instances. And lastly, with up to 2.4m beds needed, a price charter will be in place to ensure that there is not a hike in the cost of a hotel stay during the event.
With World Rugby guaranteed the money from all three bid teams, Ireland’s hope is that breaking new ground – in terms of being a first-time host and in courting the North American market – is alluring to the decision-makers.
Sitting with Rugby World in the lobby of the Royal Garden Hotel in London, Jurie Roux looks relaxed. He is in a pragmatic mood too.
“If you think about World Rugby – and this is where I am open and frank about these things – it’s all about the profit and delivering a tournament,” SA Rugby CEO Roux says. “If you are really honest with yourself, the World Cup should be in some Euro-centric environment, every four years. Because that’s where you will make the most profit on an annual basis.
“We are able to make a massive profit every 20 years. We can’t have a World Cup every four years – our government won’t be able to sustain paying a guarantee every four years, and probably some of the others won’t be able to. London will be. In terms of getting the game out there, spreading it, offering something new, Africa’s absolutely vibrant and can do that every 20 years.”
Saying this, South Africa have slapped the most money on the table for a first-up fee, adding an additional £40m to the £120m initial bid cost set out by World Rugby. Roux explains: “The reason for that is that we are African-centric, we are weak against the euro, so that’s a commercial model where to compete with the euro we have to put down a bigger guarantee because most likely our commercial programme will not reap the same as Europe (bids). But we have put down a commercial guarantee as well.”
They have set out to pay an additional £35m to tack onto commercial revenue. But there are two selling points that the South Africans, who have not hosted the tournament since 1995, hope will appeal. First is the cost of potential overheads: “What we believe is our real cost differentiator and profit differentiator is that we can deliver everything at 50-60% of the price in Europe… we can save another £25-50m off the baseline (cost) of a Rugby World Cup.
“We are able to do hotels cheaper, we are able to do travel cheaper, we are able to do labour cheaper, we have legislation in our country that prohibits any other sporting event happening whilst we are there so we don’t have to pay off municipalities etc to open their stadiums for us – all of those agreements are in place. The cost of labour is extremely cheap due to the currency.”
Secondly is their location. Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime destination for so many. As Roux puts it: “Definitely our diversity and our vibrancy is a big part of our bid. You can go to beaches, winelands, mountains and a game park. You can literally dive with great white sharks in the morning and be watching lions kill an antelope in the evening at a game park, or have a lunch in the winelands the next afternoon. I think that we are providing something – it depends on what you like. I think we provide something more and people don’t come to Africa that often.”
South Africa have also offered to buy out the hospitality – though unlike the other two bids, they have underwritten this themselves and will look for partners at a later date. They would also buy out the travel packages.
While France can offer the TGV service of two hours, Roux believes that the relatively low cost of travelling by air, plus the fact you can reach one of the seven venue cities in a similar timeframe – Johannesburg to Cape Town takes two hours, means the diversity of their nation can be appreciated fully.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup was a hit in Africa, and many of those larger stadiums would be used for the Rugby World Cup. So twinning those with the traditional venues of Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria and Ellis Park in Jo’burg will add up to more tickets than the other two, with 2.9m tickets set to be available.
Roux says that it is part of the country’s events strategy that there must be cheaper tickets accessible for “the average South African”.
Those are the three RWC 2023 bids – and the final decision is imminent.